Is it less about fantasy winged couture and more about political rebellion and inclusive voices in cinema, song and life? Have slouchy pantsuits, spectacles with gowns, men’s ball gowns, gender neutral dressing and print-textured tuxedos democratised the spellbinding spell that glamour once had? The Oscars red carpet, once a larger than life fashion event that ballooned its influence and presence in tabloid images, TV and dress fantasies of millions across the globe through breathtaking couture and jewels is, now, well, like cinema itself. That’s what the 91st edition of the Academy Awards reflected. Gritty, more soiled than snobbish, more real, it mirrors street, society and struggle with flashes perhaps from couture week and some exquisite wealthy weddings. Spectacular only in fleeting parts and no longer a haloed glamour walk.
Could there be perhaps an even simpler reason. For us in India at least as we see hundreds of gowns in our fashion landscape created by local designers, worn by Indian celebrities and brides with dash and dazzle that once just did not exist–that we continue to be attracted, to Oscars red carpet or any such event in the world but are not necessarily enthralled as we once were?
Perhaps all these reasons count.
Either way, the magic of the unbelievably big and bold dresses or the spectacular gowns that would leave beholders with goose flesh has vanished. In its wake is a curiosity and interest, that spikes now and then when a Lady Gaga in an Alexander McQueen black gown with a Tiffany Yellow Diamond (128 carats) necklace that was once worn by Audrey Hepburn almost six decades back steps on the Oscars red carpet. Yet let’s face it, you only got goose flesh when she put passion and purpose into singing “Shallow” on stage with Bradley Cooper from her nominated film A Star is Born.
Or when a music composer like the Swedish Ludwig Göransson takes the stage to receive an Oscar (best original score for Black Panther) with his long gold hair, chains over his tuxedo and you don’t care, you really don’t care who made his excellent suit.
Or when an emotional and funny Olivia Colman in a not-so-flattering green Miuccia Prada with an embellished tulle fabric bow at the back, sheer sleeves and trail makes you wonder for once: does dress really matter?
If you stayed long enough with the Oscars 2019 live ceremony telecast from Los Angeles and saw the former Oscar winner actor Julia Roberts present the final trophy in a stunning hot pink Elie Saab, you know it does. Dress matters. Even as it is not the story of the moment.
Flashback for a moment to slick haired Gwyneth Paltrow in 2012 in a stately and stunning white Tom Ford gown with a cape, Jennifer Lawrence in 2013 in sexy white Dior, Lupita Nyong’o in 2014 in a dreamy-chiffon powder blue Prada, Halle Berry in 2016 in a wine coloured Elie Saab with an embroidered net bodice or Nicole Kidman in 1997 towering over her then husband Tom Cruise in lime-gold Dior Couture created by the then newly appointed John Galliano. Even way back to 1954 with Audrey Hepburn in a gorgeous Givenchy–there was a star quality in those looks and the way they were worn.
Today however, Emma Stone in her gold Louis Vuitton, Glenn Close in a slightly overbearing gold, beaded, caped dress, Billy Porter in a tuxedo-gown trying hard to be noticed, director Spike Lee in a purple Ozwald Boateng suit with purple spectacles, Angela Bassett in a pink Reem Acra, Gemma Chan in Valentino couture, Amy Adams in a silver Versace, Jennifer Lopez in a form fitted, metallic, disco ball mosaic dress by Tom Ford may have caused a few flutters but there were hardly any gasps. Charlize Theron, the statuesque star who has been wowing the Oscars red carpet year after year in Dior Couture arrived today too in a backless pewter dress, diamonds on her turtle neck collar but it was more pale than a gale of glamour.
As couture labels, fashion weeks, luxury houses, designers and design thinkers wrangle with ideas of contemporary beauty, wardrobes that symbolise modernity, what should be recycled, what can be upcycled, what is new design, the materials and fabrics that spell change and future vision, who manufactures couture and who wears them … the red carpet is bound to reflect these dilemmas and debates. Perhaps that is what we witness today. New Couture? Its time will come. Right now, there seems to be a churn, an adaptation in progress. Where the haute is making space for the democratic. Instagram for the red carpet. Where its more about global cinema than the Hollywood cult of earlier decades.